Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Paradise, Death and Doomsday in Anglo-Saxon Literature

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Paradise, Death and Doomsday in Anglo-Saxon Literature

Article excerpt

Paradise, Death and Doomsday in Anglo-Saxon Literature. By Ananya Jahanara Kabir. [Cambridge Studies in Anglo-Saxon England, 32.] (New York: Cambridge University Press. 2001. Pp. xi, 210. $70.00.)

Ananya Jahanara Kabir's study addresses the Anglo-Saxons' evolving understanding of a deceptively simple question: what exactly was the destination of the souls of the righteous after death? In seven chapters, which examine the evidence provided by the Bible, Mlfric, Augustine, Bede, Boniface, and AngloSaxon prose and poetry, among other sources, Kabir identifies and analyzes the Anglo-Saxons' belief in the existence of an "interim paradise" as part of a fourfold eschatological model. This would, of course, gradually be reduced to the more familiar threefold model of Paradise-Purgatory-Hell in the later Middle Ages, but Kabir's book deals with the"rarely noted conjunction" (p. 1) of paradise and the soul's condition in the interim period between death and final judgment, as reflected in the literature written by and known to the Anglo-Saxons. Her methodology (literary analysis and source study) compels her to come to terms with the tensions between popular and learned culture, orthodox and heterodox belief, as well as oral and literary expression. It is an important book, and provides a richly developed answer to an ostensibly simple question.

Kabir illuminates yElfric's struggle with the question, how his writings reflect his anxieties about contrasting interpretations of paradise and the interim condition. He took great pains to emulate Augustinian exegesis concerning paradise (particularly in the latter's De Genesi ad littercmi), whom he followed in equating heaven, paradise, and Abraham's bosom. But Mtfric could not resist the pull of later exegetical trends, adding in one homily a fourth locus to the tripartite scheme, a place where the "not completely good" find rest. They are not in heaven, but neither do they suffer torment. Kabir reveals how, rather than abandon the idea entirely, ^Elfric camouflages the apocryphal roots of an interim abode for the good in order to stress the influence of alms, Masses, and intercession on the interim state (p. 47). Herein lies the main reason for the presence of this interim state in both popular and learned schemes that include it.

Kabir next examines the concept of an interim paradise in a quite different body of anonymous Old English prose texts-"ecclesiastical fiction"-of the kind that ^lfric himself condemned (chap. …

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